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Smart city projects to watch in 2018

Where in the world are the most exciting up-and-coming smart city projects?

By Sabrina Dougall

As with any major IT project, the challenge in smart city development is the legacy infrastructure. Arguably, the most successful modern-day smart city projects are purpose-built on greenfield sites, in contrast to many of the globe’s major capitals which have stood in place for decades if not centuries. However, today’s smart city projects are challenging traditional thinking – and in 2018, all bets are off.

A smart city consists of “a modern digital infrastructure, combined with a secure but open access approach to public re-useable data, which enables citizens to access the information they need, when they need it” according to a 2013 UK government background paper. An intelligent physical infrastructure such as the Internet of Things enabling service providers to make use of any and all data to manage its service(s) delivery and to inform investment would also be a core tenet of a smart city, according to the same document.

Along similar lines, Juniper Research said in 2017 that a smart city is “an urban ecosystem that places emphasis on the use of digital technology to drive efficiencies in existing social, economic and environmental processes, while simultaneously opening avenues for new, data-driven processes.”  The latter definition emphasises inter-operability between IoT systems and a multiplicity of sensors networked within a flexible network.

So far, smart city elements have been bolted onto existing urban infrastructures in piecemeal fashion. Examples include automated systems for congestion charges or sensors which feed data to an electronic display to tell drivers how many spaces are available in a car park.

Benefits of a smartened-up city could include resource efficiency, reduced crime (or better crime detection), optimised traffic flow management, building maintenance and, of course, better-informed citizens.

Features of a smart city may include: sensors which dim public lighting if there is no one around; IoT fleet management of automated waste collection; weather monitoring (including earthquake or hurricane risk). Naturally, free public Wifi is also generally incorporated. However, intelligent delivery of water, electricity and other vital supplies are the most central tenets of smart city projects.

Numerous companies have weighed in on the smart city market, including IBM, Ericsson, Cisco, Mastercard and Microsoft. Telecoms firm AT&T, for instance, hasbeen piloting connected drones technology to enable first responders to deliver emergency services for fire or ambulance crises and assist with crowd surveillance.

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Here are some of the most exciting smart cities projects to keep an eye on in 2018:


Los Angeles, USA

With a population of ca. 4 million, LA is less than half the size of New York City, yet the south California city is already a hub for smart city innovation. Perhaps unsurprising as it is just 350 miles away from the world-famous Silicon Valley, the urban hub runs on energy, transport and people flow Internet of Things technologies.

Up-and-running programmes include the 40,000 smart parking meters in the city run via LA Express Park. Connectivity with apps including ParkMe and Parker enable city-goers to keep up with rates, hours, locations and real-time capacity. Startup StreetLine, the startup behind LA’s parking sensor technology, claims it has saved the city’s drivers more than 3 million miles of wasted driving time. Additionally, the westcoast city became the first metro to use fully synchonised traffic lights in 2013. Additionally, Philips Lighting recently piloted improvements in the CityTouch connected lighting system, which oversees 110,000 street lights across the city.

A broader big data approach on the horizon is the ManyCities development from Ericsson and MIT which harnesses mobile phone traffic data to create an interactive visualisation platform. Its software engineers hope to guage insights in human behaviour through its new analysis techniques on communication networks. ManyCities is currently being tested on data from 2013-2014, but is looking to implement real-world systems in London and New York in addition to LA in the next few years.


Dubai, UAE

smart city projects
As one of the world’s wealthiest cities, Dubai is unsurprisingly ahead of most when it comes to smart technology deployment. Its Arab authorities are already making use of Internet of Things capability in traffic direction, vehicle parking and transportation.

Connected transport is just one of the benefits enjoyed by Dubai dwellers, as part of the over-arching strategy based on six pillars: life, mobility, economy, governance and environment.  The government-run programme Smart Dubai aims to “deliver world-class smart services and infrastructure to create happiness”. Its citizens are already making use of telemedicine (the remote delivery of medical services and, in the future, medical products) while tourists are encouraged to engage with the city’s authorities via a number of etourism apps. In Q1 2019, planners hope to open the Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority, a government-owned “free zone” powered by technology-based industries with planned community, state-of-the-art infrastructure and in-house business services.


Hamburg, Germany

Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz envisages cities in the future as “wider, bigger, smarter and with more opportunities” and encourages 21st century citizens to “embrac[e] progress and strive for the implementation of a modern city”. As part of this, Hamburg’s smartPORT aims to optimize infrastructure and traffic management systems, improving safety and environment conditions with the help of hardware megacorp Cisco. Sensors and cameras make up the IoT nodes of the network. Stadrad Hamburg is considered by Hamburg officials to be the most successful digitally enabled bike-sharing project in Germany.

Potentially allaying privacy concerns in the face of mass continual data harvesting necessary for any smart city project, Scholz said: “I am convinced that only those technologies will be established which are accepted in our daily lives.” Senator of Economic Affairs, Transport and Innovation in Hamburg, Frank Horch said: “The opportunities presented through the networking of people, processes, data, and things will not only drive progress in the cities and municipalities, but also offer citizens greater convenience and therefore a higher quality of life.”


Birmingham, UK

With HS2 set to reach the Second City in 2033, world-class hospital and university research centres and a burgeoning tech sector in the form of the Silicon Canal, Birmingham has attracted growing interest from financial firms in recent years. In fact Tech City UK put Birmingham in fourth place for digital employment in its 2017 Tech Nation report, published in March, boasting almost 37,000 tech jobs, with the sector contributing more than £1bn to the city’s economy in 2016.

In Birmingham’s 2012 roadmap vision, Cllr James McKay said “Assisted living technologies such as temperature and movement sensors are giving people the choice to stay in their homes longer; smart buildings can automatically adjust to the changing dynamics of people, weather, air quality and heat; and parking apps can guide you to the best available parking slot to tackle congestion in towns.”

Yet improved innovation comes down to one major variable: funds. One of the less well-known smart city projects, Birmingham has faced bumps along the road to smart city utopia. In an embarrassing U-turn after central government funding cuts, Birmingham City fired more than half its staff at its flagship new library in 2014, just a year after it was opened. Can the city balance the books to achieve smart city supremacy this year? The Labour-run authority mulled slashing 6,000 jobs by 2018 in a bid to hop back into the black.


Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

smart city projects
Hailed in 2010 by Mayor Eduardo Pae as the city’s public promise of protection after another tragic landslide, IBM’s Intelligent Operations Centre in Rio aims to leverage the most powerful compute power available to crunch big data and deliver key insights for city officials in charge of disaster prediction, management and recovery. In perhaps one of the most under-recognised smart city projects, IBM’s platform for Rio allows analysis of social media comments about the city as well as enabling citizen reporting of public concerns. As one of the top tourist destinations in the world, the 2014 host of the World Cup and 2016 home of the Olympic Games, Rio undoubtedly has a pressing need for coordinated crowd risk prevention. Of course, the system has not yet been perfected to the science fiction expectations of smart tech enthusiasts and nobody can predict all possible disasters and accidents.


Berlin, Germany

Planners could face reduced application approval times with an interactive map connected to the city council via the BürgerBautStadt app. An API called BLUME Messnetzwerk from OK Lab Berlin which would visualise aggregate data and could help to develop a statistical model for analytics and predictions. Forming the backbone to many of these initiatives is Berlin Open Data, which aims to be a public platform for human and machine readable data on the city.

“In Berlin, there are already many interdisciplinary projects that generate and utilize synergies from the public sphere, science and research, as well as businesses.” said Alexander Möller, head of Smart Cities Unit for Berlin. “Thanks to the excellent research landscape and the large number of innovative companies, the city already has a huge potential, particularly in the fields of energy, transport, mobility, logistics, communication, healthcare industries and photonics.”

However, cybersecurity is yet to keep pace with IoT development, according to Trend Micro research which found that the city contains 2.8 million exposed connected devices, such as webcams, routers, and printers – meaning Berlin-based businesses and residents are the most vulnerable to attacks.

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Bristol, UK

A UK Smart Cities Index commissioned by Huawei UK placed Bristol ahead of London in October 2017, marking how far the Wales-adjacent urbanisation has risen in the smart sector stakes. Its project, named Bristol Is Open, is a joint venture between the University of Bristol and Bristol City Council and provides a large scale connectivity testbed, working in tandem with the Smart City Operations Centre (opened in mid October 2017) to enable effective service implementation. The South West city’s technologies facilitate data access, energy innovation and community engagement, according to the University’s press on the subject. Emergency Control Centre, Traffic Control Centre and Community Safety (CCTV) Control Rooms are connected in the new Operations Centre in addition to telecare, alarm and security monitoring and lone worker support.

Sir Andrew Cahn, Huawei UK Board, said: “The successful cities of the future are going to be smart cities. It’s clear from this report that cities across the UK have made considerable progress over the last year, developing and implementing strategies to improve the delivery of public services and the urban environment.

“While Bristol and London are named as ‘leaders’, other cities have entered the index with exciting smart initiatives, such as Newcastle’s, City Futures programme and Cambridge’s, Smart Cambridge intelligent City Platform (iCP).”

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